Jobless claims inch lower to 214,000 as workers remain in high demand

February jobs blow past expectations with 678,000 additions

FOX Business’ Cheryl Casone reports on the ‘strong’ February jobs report. 

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits declined last week, the latest sign that business demand for workers remains elevated amid an ongoing labor shortage. 

Figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show that applications for the week ended March 12 fell to 214,000 from an upwardly revised 229,000 a week earlier, beating the 220,000 forecast by Refinitiv analysts. 

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Continuing claims, or the number of Americans who are consecutively receiving unemployment aid, fell to 1.41 million for the week ended March 5 – the lowest level for this gauge since February 1970, the government said. One year ago, nearly 4 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits. 

Claims have largely moderated near pre-pandemic levels as the economy continues to recover and Americans ramp up their spending levels. Unprecedented levels of government spending and a speedy vaccine rollout helped to jumpstart the U.S. economy, which expanded 5.7% in 2021.

People seeking employment attend the 25th annual Central Florida Employment Council Job Fair at the Central Florida Fairgrounds on May 12, 2021. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Businesses have struggled to keep up with the demand, however, and have reported difficulties in onboarding new employees. Thursday's report suggests that companies are making an effort to retain the workers they already have.

Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported another strong burst of hiring in February, with employers hiring 678,000 new workers.

But a different government report emphasized how job openings in the U.S. and workers quitting their jobs remained near record highs in January. Job openings fell slightly to 11.3 million, but were still up more than 60% from pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, an estimated 4.3 million workers left their jobs in January. 

Papa John’s Pizza and Anglez Hair Design on N. Wickham Rd. have multiple signs around the businesses looking for employees. Help wanted signs are springing up all over as businesses gear up for the first post-COVID summer season.  (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via USA Today Network / Reuters Photos)

The data emphasizes how newly empowered workers are quitting their jobs in favor of better wages, working conditions and hours as businesses lure new workers with higher salaries – a trend dubbed the "Great Resignation." As a result, Americans' incomes are rising across the board as employers have ramped up hiring to offset the losses. 

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The highest inflation in nearly 40 years, however, has eroded the pay gains for many workers.

The data also comes at an increasingly uncertain time for the economy as it stares down an aggressive Federal Reserve tightening plan, a continuing health crisis and the Russia-Ukraine war, which has threatened to push soaring inflation even higher. 

"The stability of the job market stands in stark contrast with the high degree of uncertainty the world is facing with the war in Ukraine, high inflation, and the prospect of further supply chain disruptions with China’s efforts to get COVID under control," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.

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